BEIRUT – Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri headed back to Tehran on Wednesday after dropping a cryptic and perhaps inadvertent clue about his mysterious odyssey since disappearing 14 months ago.

“I was in a unique situation: not completely free, not completely in jail,” he said in an interview broadcast on Iranian state television. “It is difficult to explain.”

For more than a year, Amiri has been at the center of a murky and clandestine tug of war between Iran and the U.S. The case blew open when Amiri showed up Monday evening, apparently escorted by U.S. security officials, at the small Iranian consular outpost in Washington, where he asked to return to his homeland.

It remains impossible to know whether Amiri was kidnapped during a religious pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia last year, as Iranians contend, and subjected to extreme psychological pressure by American officials hoping to extract nuclear secrets, or if, as American officials insist, he voluntarily defected but eventually yearned to return home to his family.

Amiri’s televised remark, international intelligence experts say, conjures up the image of a classic defection, in which a foreign national is kept in safehouses under strict official supervision while undergoing weeks of grueling debriefings.

“If he came here of his own free will, as a quid pro quo, then we need to talk to you,” said a former CIA analyst, who has himself debriefed defectors. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.

“These debriefings are fairly intensive and involve long hours. Certainly he can’t walk around town,” he said.

“He would be kept out of sight. There would be people to protect him and make sure he’s not doing anything stupid.”

Western experts say Amiri is almost certainly a defector and not a victim of kidnapping because the information gleaned from someone forced to talk under such circumstances would be suspect.

“If you put pressure on someone like this it’s very difficult to have good information,” said Eric Denece, a former French intelligence analyst who heads the Center for Intelligence Studies in Paris.

Rather, Amiri was probably afforded the five-star treatment of a prized defector for his valuable knowledge of Iran’s steadily expanding nuclear infrastructure.

The U.S. has vowed to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weaponry, a goal Iran denies it is pursuing.

Very possibly, analysts said, Amiri was approached by or reached out to U.S. or other Western intelligence services long before he disappeared last spring.

He may have handed tidbits of information to his handlers before his trip to the U.S. But after living the exciting life of an overseas spy, then being in Tucson, Ariz., where Amiri had claimed he was being held in videotapes posted to the Internet, must have seemed a major drop in stature.